Sonic’s Workshop: 1998 Suzuki GS500

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When do you say something isn’t worth doing? When is something simply too far-gone to be saved?

 

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Quite often with a motorcycle it’s quickly apparent that the cost of rebuilding will be too high, and the project won’t be worth doing. However, with the price of used bikes this year going out of sight, fixing up what may appear to be a machine that is too far gone may now be worth while, due to the higher prices of comparable bikes that are in a ready-to-ride condition.

I was able to pick up such a bike (a 1998 Suzuki GS 500) last summer, from a guy who owned a used car shop.

It has been the normal practice of late, for insurance companies to unload the bikes they’ve deemed a total loss to a liquidating company, who in turn hands the disposal of the vehicle off to a private auction house. All these fingers in the pie also tend to drive up the cost for the traditional buyer, the guys running the salvage shops. Most motorcycle salvage operations have steered away from the auctions for that very reason.

Anyone who owns a bike knows how big the price difference in parts is between cars and motorcycles. Anyone else figures replacement parts for a two-wheeled machine will be the same or less than similar parts for the four-wheeled variety. WRONG! At the auctions it’s mostly cars that are being sold off, but there have been more and more motorcycles showing up, as insurance companies try to collect back as much as they can on a bike. Unfortunately, it’s the auto guys that see a 94 GSX-R 750 with bent forks and destroyed front plastics, that are bidding it up to (and in some cases past) what the machine is worth in a complete and cosmetically sound condition. It seems like a great plan, until the buyer finds out what the thing is actually worth, and just how much plastic actually costs. Check out the Auto Trader, and you’ll see quite a few bikes with what is referred to as “minor damage”, being sold for top dollar from some place like Bobs Quality Used Cars.

Anyway, back to the used car shop guy. I figure that that’s exactly what happened to this guy with the GS 500. He saw a 1998 Suzuki 500 with only 17,000 km. on it and, automotively thinking, thought he could do minimal work on this fairly popular Suzuki and make fast buck in the process. Ah, a noble cause, stupid! After all, how bad can it be? BAD!! This little 500 was in a garage that was on fire. Now that is bad. But as I said, the garage was on fire, not the bike. The resulting damage was from heat scorching and not actually burning, leaving the majority of the machine still in fair shape.

All the rubber and plastics were severely melted, and the paint (along with some of the wiring) was also badly damaged and would have to be replaced. Strangely, you can’t turn a melted pile of charred plastic goo into a brightly painted tailpiece! Anyway, this car fellow paid $1,800 for what he figured was a $5,000 motorcycle. Two tires and some new plastics and it would be as good as new…. The only wrench in the gears was that a Suzuki GS 500 has to be one of the most expensive bikes to buy replacement parts for. I guess he found that out pretty quick, because he was trying to sell it back to the auction house for what he bought it for. Can you believe that? “Like, for sure buddy”.

I took a look at the bike and worked it out that the GS was worth $1,500 max. The straight front end alone would be worth that (it seems that GS 500’s are always needing new forks and a front rim for some reason). The negotiation thing started and ended quickly. He wasn’t going to budge on his price because as he put it, ” I won’t loose on this deal”. To this I simply replied, “You already have” and walked away to look at something with paint on it. I guess after everyone had told him the same thing, something like “NO!”, my offer of fifteen was looking pretty good.

Unfortunately, I just don’t have the heart to hand a rock to a drowning man. What I mean is, I knew he couldn’t sell it at this auction and so was looking at having to cart it home. I had also seen him talking to just about everyone trying to get his money back. I could have used that fact to try and lower the price, but that’s just not cricket. I think it was hard enough for him to come to me and, without trying to get a better price, said I could have it for fifteen. The deal was done. Another fool, (me) and his money, (mine) had been easily parted.

That statement really began to take hold once the fun of getting a new toy had worn off. At home a more serious assessment of the GS-5 was applied and the prognosis wasn’t looking very promising. There was quite a bit more damage than first met the eye at the auction parking lot.

The remainder of the seat was removed and the tank taken off to reveal far more heat related damage than was first visible. I had already picked up a bunch of used stuff from Ontario Cycle Salvage based on what I could already see. I got quite a good deal on the stuff as well due to the fact I was buying a large chunk of stuff at one time. Now as I looked at the new mess just uncovered I realized I would be making yet another trip to the used parts store. The main wiring harness looked worse off than I first thought. It would be easier to just replace the thing than try and patch job it back together and hope it works. Number one HT coil was heat scorched to the point of splitting. That is going to need replacing as well. I most likely will buy that item new even though it lists out at $149.00 from Suzuki. The master cylinder was also damaged along with all the cables. I figure this project may take a bit longer than first anticipated.

Even with something as bad as this GS 500 if you’re not in a big rush to get it done you may be able to pick up any number of good deals if you’re willing to shop around.

What I will be doing this summer is give you all updates at the end of each Sonic’s Workshop. That way you can monitor the progress or lack of it depending on funds, parts, and time.

Ah a fool and his money… My head hurts.

Thanks for reading, Sonic.

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